July 22, 2010

West Bank village Wadi Fukin [Valley of Thorns]

Tamar Gridinger scans Wadi Fukin's farms and reservoirs;
Israel's policies and actions are crowding them out.

I spent a disturbing spring day with a delightful guide and some creative justice seekers when my namesake, Tamar, invited me to her Judean Hills neighborhood 15-minute's drive southwest of Jerusalem.

This "other" Tamar coaches Israeli Arab and Jewish educators on teaching democracy and peace, civic education, and conflict resolution. (The work is a project of The Adam Institute, a nonprofit organization.) Chanan, my cousin's wonderful husband, is an elementary school principal whose staff works with Tamar, and he decided that she and I shared more than a name, and made the match.

Tamar, who was born on a kibbutz, lives with her family in Tzur Hadassah [Hebrew: Rock of Hadassah], a Jerusalem settlement community of about 5,000 Jewish residents that hugs the 1949 Jordanian-Israeli armistice "Green Line" inside Israel. In recent years, Tamar and other Tzur Hadassah residents have captured wide attention with their neighborly response to the Palestinian village, Wadi Fukin [Aramaic: Valley of Thorns], population 1,200. Founded in the 16th century, the village sits on the Green Line. While the communities are one-quarter hour's drive apart as the crow flies, the actual time clocked depends on who is going where. 

We drove along the main road from Tamar's home toward Wadi Fukin, delighting in the clean air and wide panoramas of hills and valleys. We paused to walk around a hilltop above a brown and green checkerboard of fields and reservoirs that collect rain waters. 

Centuries-old reservoirs collect, then release
their waters through ground-level channels. 

Below, in the terraced fields of organic fruits and vegetables, farmers direct the flow of water, plot by plot. Their ancient irrigation methods? A canal-like system of levees.

The villagers and their allies (from Tzur Hadassah and Friends of the Earth Middle East, an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian environmental organization) claim that backed up sewage from the higher ground haredi (ultra-Orthodox) settlement Beitar Illit is contaminating nearby streams and rivers. Construction and development of this settlement has placed the eleven natural springs in danger of drying up — posing an existential threat to Wadi Fukin farmers.

Sewage overflowing Beitar Illit’s treatment system
 pours into Wadi Fuqin via this brown pipe (foreground).

We returned to Tamar's car, and continued along the main road, then turned onto a narrow stone-filled West Bank dirt road toward Wadi Fukin. Making our way through narrow streets and small squares, we arrived at her friends' home. (Tamar cannot reciprocate the hospitality unless they obtain a special permit to cross the Green Line via a two-hour zig-zag journey past the Bethlehem checkpoint and along bypass roads.)

Tamar and her friends updated each other on
   developments in and around the village. 

Mohammed (people call him Abu Mazen) is a farmer; he spoke with Tamar in Arabic, and with me in Hebrew, which he learned working in Israel till the Second Intifada. His wife teaches kindergarten in a United Nations refugee camp; she doesn't speak Hebrew, and I don't speak Arabic so we spoke in English, which she learned in the camp.

When the grandchildren arrived with their parents from Ramallah to spend the weekend, our ponderous discussions came to an abrupt and welcome halt. (The children's college educated father is a regional sales manager for a biomedical company.)

Click the photo to see the wall calendar for
2010 and 1431, corresponding to the Islamic year. 

And so ended for that day our discussions on restricted movement, the West Bank Separation Wall, and settler sprawl, all negatively impacting quality of life, threatening nature preservation, and destroying Wadi Fukin. 


Anonymous said...

NOW do you understand why French people don't like you? :)
Just kidding. Nice post.

JeSais said...

Oh Tamar! I love that post!! When I was looking at the photo and the water system I remembered something I learned about farming here in New Mexico which
is a vestige of the Spanish colonial times... the acequia is used here for watering. It is a system of channeled water. Apparently you have a time allotted to you and you need to make sure the gateways are open to water the areas of your field that need watering...

Now that I'm thinking about it... I wonder if the Spaniards got the system from the Moors??

[Jenn emailed this comment to me, and I copied it here.]